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Online Poker News Archives - September 10, 2005

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September 10, 2005

World Series of Poker Review (Xbox)

There are many debates in the sports world, and one that I took part in focused on the notion that bowling was not a sport, and ergo, should not be on ESPN. The large men, strange and smelly shoes, and abundance of beer didn’t fit the mold I had in my head of a sport. I want to see larger than life men (preferably not in the waist), facing off on a field, fighting like dogs for an ultimate goal. Then, I saw the light. I turned on my television, flipped over to ESPN, and saw a poker match taking up valuable airtime. At first confused, I slowly realized that poker is indeed a valid sport. There is strategy, players, and certainly winnings. Time has moved on, and poker has invaded our everyday lives, spreading from local bars and Tuesday night games, to invading TV and the Internet. With such a large fan base, it was only a matter of time before the videogame world felt the impact. That day is now, as the first officially licensed game of the World Series of Poker is out to bluff us all out of some hard earned coin. It’s title? Appropriately, World Series of Poker.

Developed by Activision, World Series of Poker players will be treated to a few different types of gameplay modes upon booting up the title. Throughout each style of game, the same types of card games are played. These include Texas Hold ‘em, Omaha, Omaha High Low, Seven Card Stud, and Razz Poker. The main modes of play are:

Quickplay: As the title implies, this option lets players hop into a game of their choice. There is no setting up of options; the goal is simply to have fun. Pick a style of game, a character, and start dealing. Players can also practice with each card game and see what they have to offer, and for those players new to poker, the instruction manual provides a nice breakdown of each game.

Career: For those single player gamers, not interested in the multiplayer options the title offers, this is where the heart of the game lies. Players can take part in the World Series of Poker tournament, and have ten years to earn as many WSOP championship bracelets as the can. The main goal? To earn a spot in the World Series of Poker All Stars.

Multiplayer: Along with supporting System Link on the Xbox, World Series of Poker also lets up to nine players take part in online matches and tournaments, where it is time to take the skills learned in the offline world, into the online jungle.

Raking in the win.
Played primarily from a top view looking down at the table, players have a viewpoint of several things happening in the game. The only thing visible in regards to other players is their names and chip count. When playing with the computer AI, players shouldn’t expect a well-matched game every time. It seemed there were a few occasions when the computer (or myself) would receive the exact card needed several times in a row. While fun at first, the single-player experience is mixed when it comes to the AI.

Gameplay Controls:
While there are no platforms to jump, tricky ledges to traverse, or precise aiming to be done in World Series of Poker, the controls are still great, relying heavily on the thumbstick for a large portion of the control. While the pace of the game is up to the player, it is nice when controlling bets and other gameplay aspects is second nature. The breakdown of the controls is as follows.

Analog sticks/D-pad
Up = All In
Down = Fold
Left = Check/Call
Right = Bet/Raise.
Left trigger – Game Stats
Right trigger – Poker Hand Rankings
A button – Confirm
X button – Show Cards (Multiplayer Only)

Players do have some say when it comes down to the options of the game, and are left with a few items that can be tweaked with. The speed of the game (which is quite fast for those just starting with the title), the ticker display, maximum amount of times a player can raise, and the players seat at the table are all customizable.

Adding some strategy to an already tactical game is the introduction of collectable chips players can acquire during their time in the game. By performing specific requirements, such as how many people a player has taken out, to how many tables won, and how well of a winning streak a player has, gamers will be rewarded with a variety of chips. While plentiful, and fun to collect, these add to the gameplay by unlocking new features, such as being invited to specific online tournaments.

Being an officially licensed game of the World Series of Poker, players would only expect their favorite players to show up and steal their money away. Well hand over those chips now, as at one point or another during the game players will run into over ten top WSOP players, including; Chip Jett, John Phan, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and “Minneapolis” Jim Meehan. Beat a top player, and they become a playable character. But who wants to play some boring ‘ol pro, right? A surprisingly deep feature included in WSOP is the same create a character mode seen in THUG. Gamers can customize their own player; with options ranging from the traditional hair, skin, and facial type, down to articles of clothing and voice type. As a side not, any players logging on might want to go easy on the gentlemen character in the pink hanky, and lovely purple slacks and shirt ensemble. My skills are still a bit rough.

Up to nine players can log on to Xbox Live and take part in matches with World Series of Poker, and the results are a mixed bag. With the extensive character creation mode, the chances of running into a repeated character model are slim, which is great. There is leaderboard support, so players can manage their online bankroll, losses, hands won, and other statistics, and let’s face it; there is no comparison between playing against computer AI and the real thing. Ultimately, players will spend the majority of their time with this title in the online world, but there is one red flag to be noted. During a match, if the host of the game loses, or just decides to leave, the game will automatically end itself. Particularly frustrating during a great game, it is only avoidable by playing in a match headed up by a player willing to sit around and view what is happening, after their loss.

Graphically, World Series of Poker left me bewildered. I would think that since the days of the SNES and Genesis, we’ve moved beyond having cardboard cutouts as “audience members” at sporting events. Featuring maybe two types of silhouettes, expect a lot of faceless cutouts to watch in on a match. The character animations during the game aren’t varied enough, with each player using the same two animations time and time again.

Some of the character details are passable, with the pros not looking too shabby, but some of the generic characters put in to fill spots at the table have merely the essential parts to resemble a polygonal human. Some of the different areas that the matches take place in look decent, with a wide variety including; Vegas, Hawaii, Tokyo, and World Series of Poker tables.

Don’t like annoying repetitious audio clips being played over and over in your videogames? Well young gamer, this might not be the title for you. With so few audio samplings to be spouted out during a match (primarily “call”, and forms of betting), the various voice samplings become very irritating. Players will also need to rely on their own music (the title does support custom soundtracks), as the only music to be found is some horrific mix of upbeat techno/rock that plays during menu screens.

There are a few bright spots in the ultimately grim audio helpings. While not a hard noise to recreate, the ambient crowd effects and shuffling of the cards sound good, and fans of the World Series of Poker will be pleased to hear Lon McEachmem, commentator for WSOP, announcing the games.

The Bottom Line
After the cards have been dealt, there is a lot more that could have been done with the first officially licensed World Series of Poker title. Hardcore poker fans will find more than enough to meet their fix, but casual players looking to pick out just one poker title should absolutely rent this game first. The computer AI during the single-player is mixed, the graphics are just bad, the audio is disappointing, and games ending suddenly on Xbox Live make the inner poker player in me cringe. With more poker titles coming down the hatch, World Series of Poker is not worth a full purchase, at most a rental.

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